Windows 7's 64-Bit Troubles

A move to Windows 7 was driven less by the new operating system's features and more by the 64-bit performance promise, but unexpected issues forced unwanted compromises.

When the Windows 7 RTM became available for download via MSDN last month, I hurried to move my primary work PC to the new operating system. The move wasn't based on disappointment with my previous Vista Ultimate installation, nor due to any overwhelming desire for new features in Windows 7. Instead, I wanted to move from 32-bit to 64-bit so I could utilize all 4GB of RAM in my Lenovo x61 laptop, and moving to Microsoft's latest and greatest simply made sense from a timing perspective.

With the move between operating systems and architectures, I knew a lot could go wrong. I knew I could not perform a direct upgrade (as I was switching architectures) and would have to reinstall all my applications and move my data to the new system. I protected myself from any data and productivity losses by taking a snapshot of my old OS with Acronis True Image Home 2009, moving to a new, larger hard drive while keeping the old Vista disk in reserve.

But even with all of this careful planning, I missed some obvious holes when it came to a few third-party software solutions.

The first problem arose with my multi-screen setup. Windows 7 greatly improves basic multi-screen support over previous Windows iterations, but not with every combination of hardware out there. I had employed a Matrox Triple Head2Go to help drive four screens. While the Triple Head2Go technically wasn't supported in Vista with my Mobile Intel 965 video chip set, I had somehow found a combination of drivers that worked. I haven't been able to duplicate that success with 64-bit Windows 7, which has forced me to fall back to two screens since the upgrade.

I couldn't make that kind of compromise with the second problem I faced. Long before my upgrade, I knew my Cisco VPN client would not work with a 64-bit OS (either Vista or Win 7), yet that detail nonetheless slipped my mind before I upgraded. Since I need the client to access mission-critical servers on eWEEK's corporate network, I found myself faced with the prospect of virtualizing a 32-bit operating system to be able to do my job remotely.

The opportunity seemed perfect to put XP Mode to work as the feature was intended-running a virtualized instance of Windows XP for legacy application support-but instead I found myself faced with a different problem.

The main reason I put 4GB of RAM in the laptop in the first place was for the ability to quickly test software in virtual machines on the computer that goes with me practically everywhere. I've already put a lot of time and effort into building a stable of test images for VMware Workstation 6.5, and I am hesitant to give up that platform. Running two desktop virtualization platforms in parallel seems like an idea somewhere between unwieldy and stupid, so I instead built a slimmed-down Vista 32-bit iteration solely to run the VPN client within VMware-altogether forgoing XP Mode. (I had tried to build my archived Vista image into a virtual machine, but VMware's migration tool steadfastly said that my image was not valid.)

Running Vista and Windows 7 in parallel seems incredibly redundant to me, so I am leaning toward moving the virtualized instance to Ubuntu just to add some variety.

As I suspect will be the case for many other early adopters, the motivations driving my upgrade had more to do with hardware and timing than with any particular features in the new OS. For others moving to Windows 7 while at the same time making the architectural leap, remember that software compatibility between XP or Vista and Windows 7 is only one side of the coin, and that compatibility with a 64-bit OS must also be considered in advance.

Senior Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at